Is ADHD a real disorder?

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a very real disorder. It is a condition that makes it hard for people to do things that might be easy for others, like paying attention, following rules, or sitting still.

Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, PhD
Psychology Specialist

It is true that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) children are noticeably different from children who have not been given this diagnosis. But calling this difference a disorder is based on an interpretation—one that has negative effects on your child.

The name of the diagnosis itself shows that medical terminology can be subjective and tends to pathologize a person. For example, children with ADHD have hyperactivity, which means "too much activity." Why are normal children not considered to have an "activity deficit" or "hypoactivity disorder"? To add insult to injury, ADHD children also have an "attention deficit." Again, one might ask why other children are not considered to have "hyperattention disorder" or an "overfocusing condition."

This is meant to illustrate that you should not be too discouraged by the medical description of your child's tendencies. Differences do not mean disorders, and it is an interpretative leap to say that they do. A difference could be just that—no better or worse, just different from others. Many people say that variety is the spice of life, but psychiatrists do not agree. They are trained to see differences as disorders. If one were to apply this logic to gender, then the medical profession might well label women with a "penis-deficit/hypermammary disorder."

The other way to think of difference is that it can be a gift, indicating that a person with that difference is in some way better than people who don't have it. In fact, the basis of evolution and natural selection is mutation, or difference. As a species, we have evolved through differences that are found to be adaptive. Many differences give people advantages. Also, in our culture, we advance in leaps and bounds through creativity—the ability to think differently from others.

The Gift of ADHD: How to Transform Your Child's Problems into Strengths

More About this Book

The Gift of ADHD: How to Transform Your Child's Problems into Strengths

As a parent, you already know that your child has many gifts. What you may not know is that attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) related symptoms—the very qualities that lead him or her...

The mental health and medical communities agree that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a real disorder. In fact, some in the medical community feel that ADHD may be underdiagnosed, with some children not receiving the treatments that they need. Critics state the opposite, saying that ADHD is overdiagnosed and that ADHD is not a real medical condition. However, the National Resource Center on ADHD reports that the National Institutes of Health, the Surgeon General's office, and the behavioral health community stand together in support of diagnosing and treating ADHD. Numerous research studies also uphold the notion that ADHD is a real disorder. Many studies have shown that children with ADHD symptoms experience a host of negative outcomes without treatment.

ADHD is all too real. Thanks to modern technology, you can actually see the differences in brain images of patients with and without ADHD. ADHD is a neurobehavioral disorder with genetic and environmental roots. The earlier you get diagnosed and start treatment, the better. It can really help turn the lives of people with ADHD around, at any age.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.